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The show won't go on: Army expected to close community theaters

The Grafenwoehr Performing Arts Center cast of ''Dirty Rotten Scoundrels'' performs the song ''Oklahoma!'' during the Installation Management Command Europe Tournament of Plays Toppers awards ceremony in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on Saturday, April 23, 2016. Some Army community theaters across Europe were facing imminent closure due to proposed Army MWR cuts, but some of their futures still hang in the balance, while the Army reviews its planned cuts following concerns raised by the Pentagon. The theater at Grafenwoehr has been authorized to continue its program for the time being, according to a post this week on the theater’s Facebook page.

MICHAEL B. KELLER/STARS AND STRIPES

By NANCY MONTGOMERY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 7, 2016

After decades of presenting beauties and beasts, little women, angry men and lucky stiffs, the Army’s community theaters across Europe are likely going dark for good.

The expected closures would be the latest result of budget cuts that have roiled the Army in the past few years. The end of the theaters’ run, expected to be officially announced soon, would take effect Oct. 1, the beginning of fiscal 2017.

“All funding is being eliminated and the theaters are starting to announce their closure,” Dane Winters, Installation Management Command-Europe’s entertainment director, wrote on the Baumholder Hilltop Theater’s Facebook page on July 1. “Since individual garrisons can choose to fund the program in different ways, it is possible one or two programs will survive.”

Several theaters announced they’d be closing on Facebook.

“We’ve faced this many times in the past, but this time, I think they mean it,” wrote Winters, who’s been working in Army entertainment for 30 years and wrote he was planning on looking for a new job.

IMCOM spokesman Scott Malcom said that defunding the theater program — said to be the largest single producer of plays and musicals in the world, and which last year cost $1.96 million — was still “pre-decisional.”

He said that IMCOM, like the rest of the Army, was facing budget cuts in 2017 and had “to make some tough — and potentially unpopular — decisions as we work to separate wants from needs.”

“Our intent is to use our limited funds to provide critical base operating services and sustain the infrastructure that makes the Army ready,” Malcom said. “Is quality of life a child development center or a community theater? Are we in the humanities business or are we in the warfighting business?” he said.

About nine theaters, including those in Stuttgart, Kaiserslautern and Baumholder in Germany; Vicenza in Italy; and Mons in Belgium, are expected to close, and local theater buffs were already mourning the move on social media.

“The doors will close. The lights will be turned off. Props, costumes, playbills and the like will become nothing more than part of a large refuse pile in the Recycling Center,” said a post on the Baumholder Hilltop Theater’s Facebook page. “Don’t they know all the benefits of having a community theatre ... Don’t they read the studies on how active participation in live theatres benefits those with [post-traumatic stress syndrome]? Don’t they know how much this hurts?”

“Dixie Swim Club" will be the Baumholder theater’s final production. It will open next month and complete the theater’s seven years in operation “with a lovely show of friendship, love and hope ... Over 60 years of American theater in Europe is coming to an end,” said a Facebook post.

According to IMCOM’S website, its programs “are vital to maintaining the Army’s ability to fight and win our nation’s wars.”

The performing arts were once considered a part of that by enriching the military quality of life. Supporters say the theaters reduced isolation and stress and fostered good host-nation relations.

“It is a heartbreaking decision that has caused an uproar among the community of performers,” one theater performer wrote on Facebook. “I’ve been a god. I’ve been a slave. I’ve been a giant baby with a bow and arrow, and I’ve been an evil dwarf. We have made them cry, and we have made them laugh. Oh, how we’ve made them laugh.”

montgomery.nancy@stripes.com
 

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